Crime

Tapped calls show how alleged cocaine trafficker concealed operation, prosecutors say

Chase Hanson, center, is accused of being the leader of a drug ring that sold cocaine and other substances. His attorney Jeffry Radding is seated at right. In the background are faces and names of those implicated in this investigation.
Chase Hanson, center, is accused of being the leader of a drug ring that sold cocaine and other substances. His attorney Jeffry Radding is seated at right. In the background are faces and names of those implicated in this investigation. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Jurors in the trial of a Morro Bay man accused of running an elaborate drug-trafficking ring learned more Wednesday of the spectacular lengths in which he allegedly went to conceal his involvement and — often in his own words — how he bragged about how much money he made and expressed defiance at the idea of quitting.

“I’ve come too f--king far to stop,” were the alleged words of 26-year-old Chase Hanson, played to the jury from wiretapped conversations on day two of his trial in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.

Hanson is accused of operating as the ringleader of a countywide drug-trafficking organization that dealt mainly in cocaine, but also marijuana and MDMA, commonly referred to as “ecstasy” or “molly.” Hanson was one of 10 suspects to be arrested in August 2015 in connection with the organization. Many of his co-defendants have already been convicted and sentenced.

Jurors listened to nearly two hours of wiretapped conversations Wednesday, including a 90-minute conversation between Hanson and an acquaintance. Hanson was heard urging the man to introduce him to new cocaine suppliers.

The man called cocaine “garbage” and chastised Hanson for lining the pockets of drug cartel bosses, urging him to switch to selling marijuana. Hanson refused, saying selling cocaine was all he knew, and he was making good money doing it.

But things started falling apart in July 2015.

It began when an alleged driver for Hanson, Alexander Matarese, was pulled over with 3 kilograms of cocaine in his car. In one recorded conversation, Hanson could be heard speaking to an alleged Bakersfield “connect,” the man he prosecutors say he used to order drugs.

In that conversation, Hanson was heard attempting to reassure his supplier that his San Luis Obispo County operation was secure.

“(Matarese) doesn’t know me, he doesn’t know my name, he doesn’t know my face, he doesn’t know nothing,” Hanson said.

It is what detective Jason Nadal of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office described in his testimony as fitting Hanson’s reputation of being “a ghost.”

Despite Hanson’s words of assurance, Nadal said Matarese’s arrest had shaken up the organization.

That’s when Nadal said he knew he had to move to ensure Hanson’s arrest. Hanson had made a number of visits to Ireland and was a serious flight risk, Nadal said.

“I was afraid if Mr. Hanson went back to Ireland that we’d never see him again,” he said.

Nadal said his nine-month investigation picked up pace after Matarese and the 3 kilograms of cocaine, referred to in wiretapped conversations as “birds,” were taken off the streets.

Hanson allegedly started inquiring about procuring a 20-ton hydraulic press, which he could use to package cocaine into kilogram blocks. By adding a “cutting agent,” such as vitamin supplements that match cocaine’s color and consistency, Nadal said Hanson could stretch, or “step on,” his cocaine supply, allowing him to make up for the lost kilograms, each valued at approximately $28,000.

Nadal described the process of cutting cocaine as “kind of like making pancakes.”

Nadal added that Hanson didn’t just use proxies, or “pawns,” to elude law enforcement’s gaze. He also relied on cutting-edge — and expensive — technology.

When police turned up drugs and guns in searches of Hanson’s alleged properties in August 2015, they also found what appeared to be an iPhone.

In fact, Nadal testified, it was a Kryptall phone. According to the manufacturer’s website, “Calls, through the encryption process, are encrypted in a way that makes it impossible for anyone to eavesdrop on them.”

Kryptall phones can be found for sale on eBay for thousands of dollars.

“The key thing to know about this device,” Nadal said, “is that we can’t intercept it on the wire. It’s very sophisticated.”

The trial is set to resume Thursday.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler

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